What Are the Main Symptoms of Psychosis

signs psychosis sad man alone sitting

Experiencing a psychotic episode can be incredibly frightening, especially if it’s your first episode of psychosis.

What does psychosis mean?

Psychosis involves similar symptoms to mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, the cause of psychosis can be varied.

Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality that usually involves symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

How psychosis affects people

There are various symptoms of psychosis that can be significantly upsetting and unpleasant for the person experiencing them; psychosis may affect an individual’s perceptions and how they think and feel.

Psychotic episode

During a psychotic episode, an individual’s senses are often off-kilter, meaning they may sense or detect things that are not true or inaccurate. It can be challenging for people with psychosis to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t.

Experiencing psychosis symptoms

signs psychosis sad man by the stairs

A person with psychosis may:

  • See people or objects that are not there
  • Hear voices or other sounds that no one else can hear
  • Smell specific odours that no one else in the room can smell

Psychotic symptoms

Symptoms of psychosis can feel immensely real, and many people with psychosis may not be aware that they have a mental health condition.

The delusions and hallucinations associated with psychosis can cause profound confusion and distress for people, which may result in a person harming themselves or others.

What it feels like to experience psychosis

Psychosis symptoms can cause much distress and can be incredibly frightening. For example, in some cases, a person having a psychotic episode may believe that someone is trying to harm them or is out to get them in some way.

On the other hand, someone with psychosis may have grandiose thoughts, believing they are very important or of high imminence when this is not the case.

Mental health conditions

The research literature suggests that psychosis is one of the main symptoms of various mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

What are the main symptoms of psychosis?

Psychosis involves a combination of symptoms that impairs or disrupts a person’s sense of reality.

Hallucinations are a significant symptom of psychosis and are defined by experts as “sensory experiences without an external or actual stimulus.” For instance, a person hallucinating may hear their partner yelling at them from the other room when their significant other is not around, or they may think they hear a baby crying when no child is present.

Visual and auditory hallucinations

During a psychotic episode, a person may have auditory (hearing voices or other sounds) or visual (seeing people or objects that are not there) hallucinations.

Delusions

People with psychosis may also experience delusions where their thoughts are contrary to reality or factual evidence.

For example, a person with delusions may believe they are more important or superior to everyone else despite evidence to the contrary. It is also prevalent for those with psychosis to experience isolation and social withdrawal.

Help and support

signs psychosis consultation

If you think you or someone you know has any symptoms of psychosis, you must reach out to a medical professional for support.

Early treatment intervention can help alleviate your symptoms and allow your doctor to assess whether you have another mental health condition that might be causing your symptoms.

Early warning signs

Experts report several early warning signs that may appear before psychosis occurs. They include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing new or strange thoughts, or not feeling anything at all (numb)
  • A sudden lack of motivation or decreased job or school performance
  • Feeling suspicious or paranoid of others
  • Problems with communicating
  • Trouble distinguishing between reality and non-reality
  • A lack of interest in personal grooming
  • Isolating from family members and friends

Symptoms of psychosis

The main symptoms of psychosis include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of numbness, i.e., a lack of emotion or interest in hobbies or activities previously enjoyed, no interest in personal grooming, etc.
  • Chaotic or disorganised behaviour – including impulsive behaviours or doing things that make no sense
  • Catatonia
  • Mood changes

Other symptoms

People with psychosis may experience additional symptoms to those mentioned above, including disturbing or confusing thoughts.

A person with psychosis may change topics mid-conversation without explanation, lose their train of thought, or engage in constant talking with rapid speech patterns.

What are the leading causes of psychosis?

Various factors can result in a person developing psychosis, although every individual is different, and researchers say that the exact cause of psychosis isn’t clear.

Causes

However, there are specific triggers that may induce psychosis, such as:

  • Environmental factors such as emotional trauma, physical or sexual assault, or living through a natural disaster or war
  • Substance abuse – specific drugs like LSD have been associated with various cases of psychosis
  • Genetics
  • Mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

The difference between hallucinations and delusions

signs psychosis

As mentioned, hallucinations and delusions are the main symptoms of psychosis. People with hallucinations and delusions may believe that what they are experiencing is genuine; for example, if someone hears voices, they may think that what they hear is real.

Hallucinations and delusions are two different symptoms often experienced by those with psychosis.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations can be scary, and the person experiencing them may hear people talking to them when they are alone or see things that are not there.

Broadly, hallucinations are sensory perceptions that occur without external stimuli. Someone experiencing hallucinations may see, hear, feel, or smell things that aren’t real.

Delusions

Delusions are false beliefs or impressions that people firmly uphold about themselves or a situation that gets contradicted by reality.

People experiencing delusions may think that other people or the government are sending them secret messages or that they are being watched or followed when this is not the case.

Various types of delusions

There are various types of delusions, including grandiose delusions, delusions of paranoia, and somatic delusions.

Somatic delusions

Somatic delusions involve a person believing they have a severe illness when, in reality, they are entirely healthy.

Delusions of paranoia

Delusions of paranoia involve a person being suspicious of others or believing they are being followed or monitored by the government.

Grandiose delusions

Grandiose delusions are when someone has an inflated sense of self-importance.

What are the different types of psychosis?

There are various conditions and mental health disorders that can cause psychosis, including:

  • Bipolar – psychosis – people with bipolar disorder can experience psychosis; this may occur during an extraordinarily high or low mood.
  • Delusional disorder – someone with delusional disorder may have strong views or beliefs that are often strange or irrational with no evidence or factual proof.
  • Brief psychotic disorder – is when a person develops symptoms in response to a significantly stressful event where symptoms last less than a month and do not usually return.
  • Substance-induced psychosis – substance abuse to recreational drugs, alcohol, or some prescription drugs may cause this condition.
  • Schizoaffective disorder – symptoms include episodes of mood disturbance. Schizoaffective disorder has similar symptoms to schizophrenia.
  • Postnatal (or postpartum) psychosis can occur after a person gives birth.

Other conditions that may cause psychosis

Psychosis can also develop from other conditions, such as dementia (including Alzheimer’s), malaria, HIV (or other infections affecting the brain), a cyst or brain tumour, stroke, MS, or extreme stress.

Treatment for psychosis

Treatment for psychosis can be varied but usually involves medication and therapy. Because psychosis features disrupted thought patterns, people with psychosis can sometimes be a danger to themselves or others.

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment for people with psychosis sometimes gets recommended as a temporary treatment that ensures the safety of the patient and those around them.

Inpatient treatment involves someone staying in a treatment centre such as a psychiatric facility or hospital until they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.

Therapy and medication

signs psychosis sad woman with pills

Treatment can include medication and therapy to manage the symptoms of psychosis. Additional long-term management strategies may also get put in place to help you manage your symptoms, such as stress management skills, life skills, and other coping methods.

Therapy

Some therapies are beneficial to those with psychosis, including:

Medication

The research literature shows that some psychiatric medications might be effective for those with psychosis. They include:

  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medication

Summary

Psychosis can be disruptive, but the condition is treatable. People with psychosis may experience significant anxiety due to the unpleasant symptoms associated with the condition. However, treatment is available, and support is always on hand.

A person must follow the treatment plan put in place for them to help them manage their condition and prevent relapse in the future.

If you think you may have symptoms of psychosis, you must speak to a medical professional or mental health specialist who can advise you on the next steps.

Contact a specialist at Centres for Health and Healing for support and information.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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